Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Danielson Guide to Highly Effective Thanksgiving

Full disclosure--found on the internet, unattributed.

Unsatisfactory: You don't know how to cook a turkey. You serve a chicken instead. Half your family doesn't show because they are unmotivated by your invitation, which was issued at the last minute via facebook. The other half turn on the football game and fall asleep. Your aunt tells your uncle where to stick the drumstick and a brawl erupts. Food is served on paper plates in front of the TV. You watch the game, and root for the Redskins.

Needs Improvement: You set the alarm, but don't get up and the turkey is undercooked. 3 children are laughing while you say grace. 4 of your nephews refuse to watch the game with the rest of the family because you have failed to offer differentiated game choices. Conversation during dinner is marked by family members mumbling under their breath at your Aunt Rose, who confuses the Mayflower with the Titanic after her third Martini. Only the drunk guests thank you on the way out. Your team loses the game.

Proficient: The turkey is heated to the right temperature. All the guests, whom you have invited by formal written correspondence, arrive on time with their assigned dish to pass. Your nephew sneaks near the desert dish, but quickly walks away when you mention that it is being saved until after dinner. You share a meal in which all family members speak respectfully in turn as they share their thoughts on the meaning of Thanksgiving. All foods served at the table can be traced historically to the time of the Pilgrims. You watch the game as a family, cheer in unison for your team. They win.

: The turkey, which has been growing free range in your back yard, comes in your house and jumps in the oven. The guests, who wrote to ask you please be invited to your house, show early with foods to fit all dietary and cultural needs. You watch the game on tape, but only as an video prompt for your family discussion of man's inhumanity to man. Your family plays six degrees of Sir Francis Bacon and is thus able to resolve, once and for all, the issue of whether Oswald acted alone.

I'm Thankful

Last night I was watching television, and I saw ads for stores opening at 7 AM this morning. No Black Friday for them. To squeeze more pennies from crazed consumers, they can't wait. So low-paid workers will be rushing to sell computers and TVs they themselves probably can't afford to thrifty Americans who need them more than a quiet day with their families.

I have my differences with my union, but I'm grateful to be part of it. It will be a while before my brothers and sisters and I will have to teach on Thanksgiving. And there are some indicators that the crazy people who'd have us do so are suffering from waning influence. There is the landslide election of Bill de Blasio in Fun City. More significantly, the traveling road show of King and Silent Tisch is being met with the derision and contempt it so richly merits. The overreaching insanity of Common Core is not being received warmly anyplace else I know of, and Arne Duncan is shaking his wooden head in wonder.

I'm also grateful to have the best job in the world. There are few things more exciting to me than constantly interacting with eager and interesting young people from all over the world. After almost 30 years my students continue to fascinate me. Of course they make me crazy on a regular basis, but that's kind of their job, and one thing I always pride myself on is being crazier than they are. I've no doubt many of them will back me up on that.

I'm thankful for the thoughtful and inspiring people with whom I work, and honored they choose me to represent them. Being chapter leader of a large school is an insane undertaking in which you're constantly juggling things, Cat in the Hat style, and trying desperately not to fall. I was urged to run for this position by people for whom I have great respect, and didn't really want to do it at first. But this job is also very gratifying, and I suppose it's suited to a person who likes a job as unpredictable as teaching.

The first day I taught I was greeted with a chorus of, "Quit while you can. Go to Long Island to teach." I was amazed at the bitterness and burnout apparent in these teachers, and I determined to get out if I ever felt that way. Mind you, this was 1984, before the rampant national trend of blaming teachers for poverty, learning disabilities, kids not knowing English, global warming, and what have you.

I'm thankful that, though I complain quite a bit, I never complain about my actual job. I'm very thankful and blessed to have a job that I love. I hope my kid and my students can be as lucky as I've been. I know we have a lot of work to do to give them a world like that.

I'm thankful to all of you who read this little blog. It's made me reflect on teaching quite a bit and has surely helped to keep me focused and interested. I'm thankful for my fellow bloggers, listed to the right, who help me in that direction. I'm thankful for the relatively recent emergence of prominent blogging activists who publicly advocate causes promoting sanity in this field we've chosen.

I wish you all a peaceful and joyous holiday. I will work toward a world in which our children have more for which to be thankful and I hope you will all join me.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I Don't Know Anything About Medicine, but I Know What I Like

I'm watching the news crawl on CBS TV. Apparently some religious groups are going to the Supreme Court complaining their religious beliefs are offended by the notion of providing contraception care. I'm really curious why anyone with such reservations would be in such a business to begin with.

I know there are groups that reject much of western medicine altogether. You occasionally read of parents who fail to take their children to hospitals, preferring to rely on the power of prayer. And sadly, you occasionally read of children dying as a result.

Of course, that's the pessimist in me talking. The optimist says look at the business model. If it's OK for Americans to score millions with cyber-charter schools that work for absolutely no one, why shouldn't people who don't believe in western medicine get into the health care field? We'll take their premiums. When people get sick, we could pray for them. They could pray for themselves.

After all, we have an education system that's pretty much faith-based. There's no evidence rating teachers by VAM has any validity. I don't doubt plenty of teachers are praying it does. We have a Common Core set of standards that no one's ever field tested. Three out of four NY kids have failed the tests. We can pray they do better, though there are no curricula in place in many districts.

Since John King and Merryl Tisch believe in faith-based education, it behooves them to place their children and grandchildren in public schools. Naturally, they should opt for faith-based health care as well.

Me, I believe in science. I believe in evidence. For my family, I want real doctors rather than faith healers. For my children and yours, I want experienced teachers rather than TFA blow-up dolls. And for tests, I want those experienced teachers to write them, grade them, and assess my kids based on where they are rather than where John King and Merryl Tisch decide they ought to be.

I wish you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your well-earned break!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oh, the Horror

Charter school operators, who enroll about 6% of the city's students, are recoiling in shock from Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's decision to represent the other 94% of city schoolchildren in his transition team. Don't they read Gotham Schools? If they did, they'd know that charters should be covered at least half the time, if not all the time.

What is with this guy, including public school parents like Zakiyah Ansari on his team? Doesn't he know she's an advocate for public school children? Mayor Bloomberg never paid the slightest attention to her. Bloomberg knew that what was important was finding ways to pay charter operators three times what the NYC schools chancellor made, and indeed there are now several charter moguls raking in big bucks as a result.

How are Bloomberg's BFFs going to continue hopping onto the gravy train if this trend continues? Are we going to actually spend city funds on public schoolchildren instead? That would be an outrage. Why would entrepreneurs come to NYC if they can't make money off the sweat of our children? It's bad enough we outlawed child labor. Now, just when we're finally figuring how to make money off the little urchins, along comes liberal de Blasio to throw a monkey wrench into the works.

Naturally charter school advocates are outraged. Eva Moskowitz made her kids, their parents, and her at-will employees march in protest. This drew multiple stories from Gotham Schools, and perhaps de Blasio missed them. Gotham, of course, roundly ignores UFT rallies to stop Mayor Bloomberg from pushing his policies onto the mayor-elect, because such rallies are of no importance whatsoever.

Naturally, charter advocates, like Gates and Walmart, want to get their money's worth. That's why they fund Gotham Schools. But if Bill de Blasio won't take their money, how can he represent them.

After twelve years of a mayor who exclusively represented corporate interests like charter schools, a mayor who did whatever he wished on his fake school board, are we going to have a mayor who actually represents the interests of our children and their parents?

What would that New York look like?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Not My Job, Man

So says self-proclaimed "student lobbyist" Andrew Cuomo, when confronted with the controversy swirling around the enactment of Common Core in his state. Oddly, Mr. "I am the government" took a decidedly different stance. But with his formerly high favorability ratings circling the toilet, Cuomo's role, first and foremost, is Opportunist in Chief.

You won't see Andy Cuomo criticizing white suburban soccer moms like Arne Duncan. Duncan needs only the support of Barack Obama. Cuomo's overarching goal is to become Barack Obama, and to do that, he needs votes. A whole lot of them. He can't go around alienating large swaths of Americans, labeling them by sex and race. This is particularly true when parents of young children in NY are watching their children fail in massive numbers.

Now Cuomo could take the POV of NY Times op-ed writer Frank Bruni, that we're coddling our children by complaining they take tests for which they're totally unprepared. On the other hand, if some teacher gave my kid a test for which my kid were unprepared, I'd be at the school in a New York minute. I don't blame parents for complaining. I blame Arne Duncan for categorizing them by sex and race.

So here's the thing--it will be good if Cuomo does something about this other than grant a little lip service. It appears he's being pushed in the right direction. There's a grassroots uprising against this Common Core nonsense and it appears he notices it when he licks his finger and holds it up to the wind. The problem with someone like Cuomo, who opposes a millionaire's tax and has the gall to compare it to his Dad's principled stand against capital punishment, is he has no core principles. He does whatever is expedient, and whatever he feels takes him one step closer to the White House.

But I don't doubt that, whatever he does or doesn't do, he'll throw us under the bus in a New York minute the moment it's convenient for him.

Friday, November 22, 2013

High School Students Expose Tweed Incompetence

You read this, but you just can't believe it. The geniuses at Tweed thought it was a good idea to give those tests to find out how badly city teachers suck, and decided to post the answers online. Curious high school students, who got to think about the test answers overnight, looked it up online and voila! There it was. The city's reaction:

“This should not have happened. It was a mistake, and there will be no negative impact on students or teachers,” said spokesman Devon Puglia. “Principals will have latitude to deal with any problems this causes and, as always, we will thoroughly review any anomalies in the data and make adjustments if necessary. We are assessing the situation and thank the students at Curtis High School for bringing this to our attention.”

If that doesn't inspire confidence, what does? Your students have taken a baseline test to see what progress you'll have made by June. Only on the baseline, they got to look up sample responses online.  It's pretty clear that would alter the results. It's also pretty clear when you give thousands of kids a test on All Quiet on the Western Front, there are all sorts of online resources they could use for commentary and suggestions.

So even if the geniuses who posted answers on the website had not done so, it's ridiculous to assume that you can fairly assess the interpretations of students. If you let me read something today and answer questions about it tomorrow, I can read CliffNotes, SparkNotes, BookRags, and 500 other things online that will make undue thinking on my part thoroughly unnecessary.

And let's be honest here--if the geniuses who designed these assessments are stupid enough to put them online, how good could the tests be anyway?

Take a good look at the two students in the picture, because they're among the best education reporters in New York City. They attend public school and managed to do this largely without the benefit of Common Core.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

No Context for You!

There are few things more fundamental than reading. This is particularly true if you're an educator of any stripe. One of the most gratifying things I've done, as an ESL teacher, was to get kids to read books in English. To many of my students, this seems an insurmountable task. Getting them to face up to it is an act of seduction as much as anything else.

First, you have to select a book to which they can relate on some level. I'm particularly fond of The Joy Luck Club. It contains stories that cross cultures, like my students, stories of overcoming enormous obstacles to find your place in society. It contains not only stories reflecting victory of the human spirit, but also stories so sad that even a teenager's life can appear brilliant in comparison. We all think our problems are the worst in the world, but this book can sometimes persuade even sulky teenagers otherwise.

Now I haven't run this book through the Common Core inspection system, so I can't say whether or not it would be placed on a 4th grade level, like To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, as an English teacher, I don't select literary works because of how many difficult words they may or may not contain. In fact, I see simplicity as a virtue. A writer who can express a depth of ideas or emotion using simple language is all the more impressive to me, and all the more accessible to a much broader group of readers.

Then along comes this. The Common Core geniuses find it a clever idea to teach the Gettysburg Address completely out of context. This way, students won't fall back on what they already know.

The unit — “A Close Reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address“ — is designed for students to do a “close reading” of the address “with text-dependent questions” — but without historical context.   

Great. Who cares what was going on in the United States at the time this was written? As long as they can answer those questions, they can pass the test, and that's what's important here. Let's make one of the most significant speeches in our history yet another dry and meaningless text to be parsed for text-dependent questions. Let's then place it on our bookshelf with The History of Cement, and One Million Tedious Essays No One Wants to Read. Let's assign to it the transcendent nature of the all-important train schedules our younger children will be grappling with.

Let's make our children hate to read and appreciate the written word not at all. The important thing is to make them pass those tests.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

We Don't Need No Stinking Rules

So says the Beginning With Children Charter School. Because they used to be a public school, they're bound by the awful UFT Contract, you know, the one that says teachers must be paid a certain number of dollars and work a certain number of hours. Because really, the entire point of being a charter is to do whatever the hell you feel like, pay whatever you like, and make teachers work 200 hours a week.

After all, if you don't do those things, where are you gonna find half a mil to pay an Eva Moskowitz or Geoff Canada? Who wants to work on some crummy principal's salary? A charter needs flexibility. Otherwise, how can you make your kids march for some political cause on a school day? How can you make the teachers come in on Saturday and Sunday for training in how to make the charter look better?

Nope, the best thing to do is just close the doors and give up. There's no money in an enterprise where working people have a contract. Maybe we could turn it into a public school, or just demolish the whole place, salt the ground, and make sure nothing ever grows there.

Because when you run a charter, you put children first. Screw the adults. And if they adults don't feel like working for free, if they insist on going home to their families and having, you know, lives and stuff, you can't put up with that! After all, the other charters don't have to pay those salaries or let teachers go home when they finish working.

So if you can't do it the way you want to do it, the thing to do is walk away. Screw the adults, of course. Let them go find other jobs, if they can. But you love the children. So, out of consideration, because you Begin With Children, when it's time to screw them, you do it last.

Let them go to some other school. If you can't get what you want, why the hell should kids get what they want either?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Secretary of Stupidity Arne Duncan

A few years back, Obama's basketball bud Arne Duncan opened his mouth, and out came words asserting that Katrina was the bestest thing ever to happen to education in New Orleans. This revealed several things. It spoke to a gross incomprehension, indifference, and insensitivity to human suffering. It also told us that our Secretary of Education was quite sanguine over the prospect of destroying not only union, but also public education if his BFFs could benefit financially.

Though it's been largely charterized, NOLA is still waiting for Superman, or whatever the secret sauce is that was promised by the corporatists who direct President Obama.  They have him taking vital actions like hiring lunkheads as education secretaries. This goes a long way to explain why our Prez did absolutely nothing about Duncan's outrageous remarks.

Last week, Duncan managed to reach a new plateau in ignorance, stating that Common Core would teach suburban white moms that their children are not as brilliant as they think. Obviously, singling out people by color is reprehensible, ignorant, and in itself merits Duncan's dismissal, even if he weren't as blitheringly incompetent as he clearly is. It's also sexist, of course. Most pointedly, it's a slur on our students. If a city teacher were to walk around sputtering idiocies of this sort in public, he or she would likely be facing A-421 charges of verbal abuse, and 3020a demanding dismissal.

But Duncan is different. Clearly one goal of Common Core is to persuade more well-to-do communities that their public schools suck and must be replaced by profitable corporate charters. Judging from the reaction in New York, this effort has been spectacularly unsuccessful. We know our children are not stupid simply because they did poorly on tests from Reformy John King and Silent Merryl Tisch. King and Silent Merryl, while encountering less rowdy crowds due to selective admission polices, are persuading no one who hasn't already bought into the corporate education agenda.

Some people are saying this is a clever ploy. He will go after the white suburban moms so that it will appear he isn't indifferent to urban minorities. Of course that's abject nonsense. Anywhere his BFFs can make a buck from a school closing or colocation, Arne will be there applauding. And doubtless when he steps down from the education gig, for which he is totally unqualified, there will be a golden parachute somewhere from the corporations he helped at the expense of our children.

The question then becomes this---Is this a clever ploy, or merely a stupid utterance? Either way, Duncan is unfit. He needs to be replaced, and with extreme prejudice. Otherwise, he'll be given a blank check to model his extreme prejudice against public schools. That's a quality that's 100% unacceptable for someone in his position.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Super-Duper Double Top Secret School Closure List

 by guest blogger Fly on the Wall

It’s pretty well known that as Mayor Mike prepares to exit office, many Tweed officials are looking for new jobs. Mark Sternberg already went to Walmart. The DOE also doesn’t want its emails made public.

Why the NSA-like secrecy? Isn’t this the era of accountability? A convo with a highly placed DOE official might explain this frantic effort to hide its internal emails.

The time: in the recent past
The place: Not disclosed to protect privacy

The convo between persons A, B, and C:

A: “I graduated from Jamaica High School, before it closed.”

B: “Oh really, did you know ___? He taught there.”

A: “Yeah I did, don’t remember much about his class, it was a long time ago.”

C: “You know why they closed Jamaica High School right?”

A: “Because it was in a bad neighborhood?”

C: “No. There’s plenty of really bad schools in really bad neighborhoods the DOE never touches. The DOE has this secret list that they circulate every year. It’s super-secret like no one outside the top deputies see this list.”

A&B: “What’s the list?”

C: "It’s called where the Desirable Acreage List. They examine how big the building is, if there’s a campus, if there’s a track field, parking nearby … And Jamaica kept popping to the top of the list every year because they liked the building. So they went after it.”

A: “We did have a nice building with a track field ...”

C: “Yeah, that’s the real reason they went after Jamaica in particular. It didn’t have anything to do with graduation rates or school performance or anything like that. It has to do with desirable acreage. They still have that list, and they’re co-locating schools they tried to close if they have desirable acreage."

B: “And if you can’t close, co-locate.”

C: “Exactly. Co-locate. But first they have to evaluate the building to see if anyone would even want to co-locate there.”

A&B: “Wow.”

C: “So yeah, that’s the super-secret list the DOE won’t ever show anyone. Why they close schools."

Friday, November 15, 2013

How to Get a Voice in the UFT

While I face dozens of complaints about the new paradigm of endless observations, incessant testing, and listening to King and Silent Merryl recite that they understand, they really understand, but are prepared to do nothing, I continually wonder what the UFT is doing about it.

Here's what I know for sure:

1. We support Common Core.
2. We support the rating of teachers via junk science VAM.
3. We support endless observations.
4. We'd like them to kind of slow down a bit, and hope it becomes marginally less awful under Bill de Blasio.

This is not inspiring to my colleagues or me. Yesterday I was speaking to a supervisor about the Wednesday night rally in Mineola. She asked me why I don't get more involved in the central union. That was actually the most interesting question anyone had asked me for a while.

There are only a few ways to be involved in the union. You can be independent, like I am, and blog, and write for anyone that will publish you, shout from the rooftops, and hope for the best. You can even stand for chapter leader. But once people realize you aren't Unity, you can't get recognized in the DA. If you're called on by mistake, you may perhaps inspire some hilarious joke. A few months ago I saw a guy who questioned the Thompson endorsement being told he didn't believe in democracy.

The other way is to join the Unity Caucus. Then, you can go to conventions, get the coveted decoder ring, and learn the secret handshake. You can go to their meetings, you can wear a fez or do whatever it is they do. Nobody much knows what that is, since they're not talking and most members don't even realize they exist. To join Unity, you pledge that you will support all Unity positions in public. In effect, once you get in, you aren't allowed to express your own opinions in public, unless they happily coincide with those of the caucus.

Can you imagine being a chapter leader and having to support Common Core, VAM, mayoral control and endless observations? I'd hide in the basement if I were sworn to do that. Though there's an NEA poll suggesting that teachers overwhelmingly support Common Core, they clearly didn't ask any teachers in my building. I do not know a single one who supports it. Not one. And I'm seeing parents of young children, people who never gave a crap about union activity whatsoever,  furious about it. They tell me mostly about articles I've already read, but now they're telling me bearded karate guy/ troglodyte Chuck Norris is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. I'm really relieved my kid is now a senior (and yes, in a public high school).

I realize that a majority of the 14% of working teachers who bothered to vote selected the Unity Caucus. I realize that the retirees, who shouldn't be voting for anything but retiree matters, love it when they come down to Florida and give them free lunch.

But getting a voice in the UFT is a tough thing. Either shout from the rooftops until you're hoarse, or join the cabal, go to a few conventions, and shut the hell up.

It's Catch 22. The best catch there is.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In Which I Broaden My Horizons

I'm the chapter leader of a very large school. As a consequence, people complain to me about everything. Why doesn't the faucet work in the ladies' room? How come the kid in my third row hasn't been suspended? Why can't you get us a new contract?

I muddle through as best I can, and I get a little better at it each year. I help everyone I can, and if I can't, I can usually find someone who can. But the questions this year are fundamentally different.

Where has the joy gone, they ask. I used to think it was a privilege to have this job and to be able to teach these kids. Now they give me reading lists of things neither I nor anyone in the known universe wants to read. You know, they don't want joy. They want rigor. Who the hell wakes up in the morning and wishes for rigor? Do people other than John King walk around wishing one another a rigorous day?

Teachers come to me and talk of their children. They used to love school. Now they pretend they're sick and don't even want to get out of bed. Should 8-year-old children be behaving like that? My daughter used to read every night. Now she does homework until ten or eleven o' clock and doesn't have time for that. My son can't understand the math in his book. I had to go to his school, pretend he had left something in his desk, and photograph every page of his math book on my iPad. Then I had to get someone to explain it to me so I could explain it to him.

Now administrators are complaining to me. This is unusual because my job is supposed to entail complaining to them. They ask what I'm going to do about it. My kid has given up. He demands to go out and play with his friends. I refuse until he finishes his homework, but rather than do so, he'll sit in his room motionless until bedtime.

My kid's teacher is teaching history by posting 5 million facts on the board. My kid's supposed to memorize them and regurgitate them for the test. This is what passes for high-level thinking under Common Core. Teachers are beaten down. Children are beaten down. And at forums across the state, John King and Merryl Tisch are shouted down. They say, "We hear you," and happily do the same thing. They don't need to worry because their kids go to private schools that don't treat children like this.

I have never seen so many people so dispirited and beaten down. I don't feel it for myself because I'm kind of fatalistic. I've had a good run, I still love what I do, and I am 100% positive I know better than Tisch, King or Gates what my students need. If they fire me for junk science, so be it. I'll get by.

But whatever they do, I will do everything in my power to get the truth out, and to make sure children and teachers who come after us don't have to suffer through such nonsense. King and Tisch can sit and pretend to listen today, tomorrow, or a hundred times more.

But those of us who care about education will not shut up, will not give up, will not give them one moment's peace until their agenda serves us and our children, rather than Gates, Walton, Broad, and all the other billionaires who wouldn't spit on us or our children if we were on fire.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Governor Andy Takes Another Principled Stand

NY Governor Andrew 1% Cuomo has decided he will work with Bill de Blasio, our newly-elected mayor, to make pre-K available for all city students. But he doesn't much like the part about people who make over $500K paying a little bit more in taxes. After all, Governor Andy has principles. He killed NY State's millionaire tax, because it's simply not fair that people making that sort of money should pay any more.

For one thing, have you seen the price of yachts lately? And don't get me started on strings of polo ponies. It's getting so you can barely afford to charter a private aircraft anymore. Sure, first-class reservations are OK, but they're simply not the same.

So Andrew Cuomo, the student lobbyist, is making sure the vulnerable rich people, so delicate they could break if you touched them, won't have to contribute an extra dime toward educating the kids who most need it. How will he find the money to avoid this tax increase? Maybe he'll take money away from older kids. Or maybe he'll hit their parents.

The important thing is, in 2016, when Governor Andy is competing with Chris Christie, or some other servant of the plutocracy, for the big bucks, he can't be seen as the guy who enabled a moderate tax increase to support our impoverished and needy children. Because Governor Andy is the neediest guy in the state. Sure, a typical New Yorker can get by on a modest salary, but Governor Andy needs millions, billions, gazillions to be nationally competitive.

It's a question of principles. Governor Andy's dad, Mario, took a principled stand against capital punishment. This was one of the things that eventually cost him his office. Governor Andy has taken a principled stand that nothing will stop his political career. And while the folks who fund him can forgive that he shacks up with the world's worst cook, they cannot spare one red cent to support New York's poorest children.

That's beyond the pale. And that's why he's Governor 1%.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Business of Pearson Is the Business of America

It's vital that we enact Common Core Standards immediately. That's why Reformy John King has actually been compelled to go out there and listen to parents and teachers before ignoring them utterly as per usual. Because without the valuable lip service of New York's education commissioner, where would we be?

More importantly, there are books and supplies to be sold. Common Core is the only way we can teach our children to think critically, and those of us who haven't been trained in it will never know how to question anything. As Reformy John says, in front of God and everybody, anyone who doesn't like it is a "special interest." Perhaps, given they're getting in the way of the healthy commerce caused by Common Core, such opponents are communists or worse! It's too bad they haven't been trained in the essential critical thinking skills of Common Core, or they'd know that now is the time to sit down and shut up.

As John King likes to point out, this is an emergency. We haven't got time to worry about whether or not Common Core does any of the things he claims it does. We can't take time to question it, or wonder whether or not it works. And if it's damaging to our children, that's just part of the cost of business. If three of four of them fail and are traumatized by it, so be it. This is the price of opposing the status quo! Our children need this even if it's total crap, because doing nothing is not an option. And by our children, I don't mean John King's children, who go to a Montessorri school.

That's just one reason why it doesn't matter at all if the Pearson materials we pay billions for are riddled with errors. That's just another incidental cost of business. The only way we can solve the crisis that Reformy John King says we're in is to buy the materials at full price and use them anyway.

Because how can we teach kids to be critical thinkers if we don't use low quality crappy materials that they can criticize?

Friday, November 08, 2013

Why a Second Language Is Important

I'm pretty lucky in that I teach English as a second language. Apart from the fact that my students are amazing, interesting, and unpredictable, they generally have an intrinsic motivation. If you want any sort of worthwhile future in the United States, you really have to learn English. If you're an aspiring dishwasher, I suppose you could do without it as long as your boss speaks your language. Otherwise, there just aren't a whole lot of options.

I'm also certified by NY State to teach Spanish, but I've rarely done it. I always think it must be very tough to make English-speaking high school kids want to learn another language, particularly if they're just dumped into the class for no special reason. We are not good language learners, and it's precisely because we live in a huge country and have to travel pretty far to need another language. Europe is different. England, for example, is just about the size of New York State.

So why do you need a second language? My wife and daughter found out the other day. There's a new gym opening up in our town, and they both went in to check out what sort of deals they had. While they were in there, a group of Spanish-speaking people happened to walk in. The staff didn't speak Spanish, so my wife and daughter stayed there for quite a while helping them fill out forms and answering questions.

When the Spanish-speakers finally left, the folks at the gym offered both my wife and daughter jobs, and said if they worked there they could use the gym for free. My 17-year-old daughter, in particular, is thrilled, and agreed to work Monday through Thursday nights. She needs an awful lot of money, apparently.

She was heartbroken when her miserable cur of a father informed her she could work two weeknights maximum. It did not exactly spread cheer through the NYC Educator household. But I'm pretty proud of her, and I think she will do well and learn a lot.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Does Common Core Align with Danielson?

I look at the Danielson Rubric and I see an awful lot about engaging the students. Active, happy kids are a big plus if they're using the Danielson Rubric. You want them to be asking questions on their own, to know there are procedures in place, and to remind one another what they are. You want them in groups, and you want the groups established for some reason or other.

And yet, Common Core is all about rigor. You read how David Coleman, or whatever expert they have this week, says no one wants to know how kids feel. That's not important. The important thing is to get them to read archaic documents with language no one uses anymore, and to have them answer incredibly difficult questions. And just in case they accidentally slip in anything that's fun in any way, you will analyze it so deeply that every last drop of fun will be utterly squeezed out of it.

I always thought how people feel is important. In fact, I thought if you read things that touched your feelings in some way, you'd like them better. I always try to find things like that for kids to read, so that reading becomes a positive experience for them. Yet now, with Common Core telling us that To Kill a Mockingbird is for fourth graders, we need to have them read incredibly tedious and difficult things or it won't be rigorous enough.

I love to read. Left to my own devices, I prefer fiction. I can do non-fiction too if I'm interested. In fact, if I'm not interested, I can plod through whatever. I read quite a few things for college that I didn't particularly adore. Beowulf springs to mind somehow.

I'm trying to imagine how I'd run an exciting or interesting class if I had to teach Beowulf to ESL students. Or if we sat and read train schedules. What time will NYC Educator reach the moon if he forces 34 teenagers at a time to read tedious crap? What sort of message are we sending our kids if we force them, from the time they're children, to read tedious crap?

The best readers are those who love to read. I don't know of little kids who fantasize about reading law books. I do know people who want to be lawyers, people who read everything, and then read the law books when they're required. But before you make the kids read "rigorous" (read "tedious") things, it's smart to make them love reading rather than hate it.

Then they'll be successful, instead of bitter and frustrated. That's why Reformy John King sends his own children to Montessori Schools, that's why Obama sends his to Sidwell Friends, and that's why Merryl Tisch pays private school tuition, even for the offspring of the help.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Test to Test the Teachers Before the Test

Yesterday I went to a PD session in which we looked at the senior English test, a test that counts not for the kids taking it, but rather for the teachers giving it. This is important to us because, as ESL teachers, our students who tested advanced will have to take the test, the test to test the teachers, the test they give before the test to test whether the teachers prepared the kids to to take the test again. You see, fully two days of instruction are lost as we explore whether or not your teachers suck, and if so, just how sucky they may be.

This particular test to test the teachers before the test is an argumentative essay. This, we're told, is completely different from a persuasive essay. Why? Well, in a persuasive essay, I would just make an argument and try to persuade you to accept it. Ah, you say, that's an argumentative essay? Well, you're completely wrong. In fact, I learned yesterday that in an argumentative essay, you give the counter argument and explain why it sucks even worse than the teachers who failed to demonstrate that their students could improve on the test after the test to test the teachers before the test.

What's really great about this test is it has almost a full page of instructions. There's nothing I like better, if I'm an ESL student who doesn't have a whole hell of a lot of English, than spending hours looking up words in a bilingual glossary. That doesn't cramp my style at all. What's style?

You need not concern yourself with style at all if you're in my class. If you're in my class, and there's a gun to my head, and Chancellor Walcott is saying, "Make this non-English-speaking kid pass or I'll shoot," I might whimper a small protest. "But...but the kid doesn't know English!" Naturally the Chancellor would reply, "The test says the kid is advanced, and I paid a billion dollars for Pearson to design it, so no more excuses!"

Well, with that gun to my head, I'd figure out just how that kid could pass that test in the fewest paragraphs possible.

1. Introduction
2. Opposing argument and why it sucks
3. Reason 1 my argument is the bestest, supporting details
4. Reason 2 my argument is the bestest, supporting details
5. (for ambitious, or really advanced students only) Reason 3 my argument is the bestest, supporting details
6. conclusion

And that's about it. I didn't bring the entire list of instructions home with me, as I can fit just so much crap in my house. And I wouldn't want to complicate my prescribed plan for the students, as they can fit just so much crap in their heads. But yes, if you're going to fire me if they don't know it, I will teach them this crap. I've taught kids how to pass many exams that required formulaic crap.

It's too bad. If anyone ever asked me to, I'll bet I could teach kids how to write instead.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Trials and Tribulations of Meryl Tisch

Not only is Meryl Tisch chancellor of the NY State Board of Regents, she's also chairwoman of the the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. Because really, controlling the education of millions of NY State children is kind of a part-time gig. When you're as rich as Meryl Tisch, you need time to play polo, to shoot skeet, to go fox-hunting, and of course you have to run a few charities. It's just what you do.

Naturally, you haven't got time to actually do any work at these jobs, because you're busy. There are gala luncheons and charity balls, there are clothes to have tailored, and vacations to plan. There are homes to redesign and servants to chastise. So you hire people to work for you. But good help is so hard to get nowadays. I mean, here you are paying some character half a million bucks a year to run the charity you're supposed to be in charge of, and he runs off and steals a few million.

And for a few lousy million, the papers are all, "You're incompetent," and "You're irresponsible," and "How can you run a school system if you can't even pay attention to what's going on in your own backyard?" I mean, the audaciousness! Who do these people think they are?

And you're kind to your inferiors. You pay private school tuition for them because, for goodness sakes, those public schools are just awful! And you know, because you run them. The fact is, even criminals who mix in our circles ought not to have to consort with the bootless and unhorsed in those public schools.

And now they criticize you for that as well! These daily periodicals are so vulgar! Why did you get involved in this whole Regents thing anyway? You could be wintering in the south of France! Then you wouldn't have to go to those awful dinners at Governor Andy's house with Sandra Lee cooking Spicy Spam Surprise, and making those awful drinks with the gaudy umbrellas.

You give and give and give, but for goodness sake, there's a limit!

Monday, November 04, 2013

Bet on Bill de Blasio

For my money, Perdido Street School is one of the very best NYC education blogs. I see things regularly I'd never know about if I weren't following him. For example, you won't learn that Bill de Blasio met with Rahm Emanuel over at Gotham Schools. It's certainly worth considering, as Rahm is clearly the scum of the earth, among the very worst of the faux-Democrats working people have to endure. While I'd rather de Blasio passed his time with people who are less insane, I have no idea what they discussed, and I don't think working teachers should let that influence their votes. Here's why:

1. You have no choice. De Blasio's opponent, Joe Lhota, thinks Mayor Bloomberg is a swell fella, loves his policies, and wants to double down on charter schools. He thinks skin color is a fine reason to stop and frisk people on the street, and wants to continue the Emperor's policies. He wants to continue the disastrous policies of closing schools rather than trying to improve them. He also wants to make sure people making over a half-mil per year don't pay another dime in taxes.

2. There's no evidence de Blasio is like Obama. A lot of us have buyer's remorse about President Hopey-Changey, who told the NEA he'd do it, "with ya, not to ya," and then appointed corporate crud Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Obama clearly favored charters and said so. He was supported by DFER. There was plenty of evidence about how reformy he was, but in 2008, many of us held our noses and hoped for the best. What has de Blasio said about charters? He's said he would charge Eva Moskowitz and pals rent. He's spoken out against colocation, and he wants to end the divisive and baseless letter-rating of schools.

3. De Blasio stands with unions. Last Friday I went to a rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall and listened to de Blasio speak about how union builds communities and middle class. He said he would end the policy of vilifying those of us who help run the city. He painted us as helping rather than hindering the city's progress, and promised this...

“I will start by actually liking the people who do the work.”
And also, de Blasio told UFT members at the Waldorf that he envisioned a city...

"where (teachers are) honored, you're respected, your work is put on the pedestal it should be put on, you're told every day by a mayor and a chancellor: we need you, we appreciate you, we thank you and we'll work together with you to help every single child in this city."

4. While de Blasio doesn't commit to retroactive pay, we are two contracts behind. Every teacher wants a raise, not having had one for five years. But Emperor Bloomberg opted to screw us in the 2008-2010 round of pattern bargaining, in which almost every other union got an unconditional 8% raise. Whatever crap pattern they offer in the next round will be seriously endangered if they decide to drop pattern bargaining by failing to offer it to us. For example, if the new pattern is 0, 0, 2 or some other such nonsense, there will be no reason for other unions to fall in line if the new mayor decides not to enforce the pattern. We are also involved in non-binding arbitration with PERB, for whatever that's worth, but whatever they decree, messing with the pattern could be enormously costly to the city.

Politicians and politics being what they are, there are no guarantees. Lily Tomlin said, "No matter how cynical you get, you just can't keep up." She's right. And I understand we can make mistakes. When UFT endorsed Thompson, it made sense to me. Wiener was then in first place, and I was sure he was the only person who could make Lhota mayor. But once de Blasio surged I refused to work against him. So did a lot of UFT folks I know (including some pretty staunch Unity members).

But the best thing we can do now is make sure we get out and give Bill de Blasio a landslide victory for the policies he publicly supports. I say vote early, vote often, and vote for Bill de Blasio.

And one more thing--the next mayor will be the first mayor with children in NYC public schools!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Common Core Geniuses and Our Children

Today at Perdido Street School, we see one of the most absurd conceivable uses of Common Core Curriculum--rating classic books by  grade level. Reality-Based Educator quotes another fine publication:

Here’s a pop quiz: according to the measurements used in the new Common Core Standards, which of these books would be complex enough for a ninth grader?

a. Huckleberry Finn
b. To Kill a Mockingbird
c. Jane Eyre
d. Sports Illustrated for Kids' Awesome Athletes!
The only correct answer is “d,” since all the others have a “Lexile” score so low that they are deemed most appropriate for fourth, fifth, or sixth graders. This idea might seem ridiculous, but it’s based on a metric that is transforming the way American schools teach reading.

It's almost inconceivable anyone would dream to rate books this way, but in 2013, in the United States of America, Bill Gates thinks it's a good idea. Therefore Arne Duncan and Reformy John King also think it's a good idea, and unless you're a "special interest," like a teacher or parent, you should too. I'm not trained in Common Core and am therefore an ignorant galoot who doesn't appreciate anything, but I'm a pretty avid reader. There's a quote that I heard as a child that has stayed with me for a long time:

Any damn fool can get complicated. It takes a genius to attain simplicity.
~Woody Guthrie

To me, this means if you can communicate with a large group of people you're doing a better job than you are if only few people understand, or care to understand you. There's a reason people still sing This Land Is Your Land decades after Woody's death, and that reason has nothing to do with the amount of large words Woody chose to insert. There's a reason people will still read To Kill a Mockingbird years after the silly sports book has been forgotten.

But alas, to the geniuses who invented Common Core, the qualities that make a work classic are of no consequence whatsoever. The important thing is to use as many unfamiliar, archaic and difficult words as possible. Because to them, the more tedious crap a kid can manage to slog through, the better a student it makes the kid. I've had multiple parents of young children tell me this year, the first of Common Core around here, their kids who used to love to read now cry at night and fake being sick in the morning to avoid school. That's a shame.

It's our job to inspire children, to make them love life, to make them appreciate what we have to offer so they themselves can offer something someday. Common Core doesn't understand that. A favorite book series of mine is The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency. It uses simple language, and manages to convey wisdom and humor while doing so. I've been able to teach it to ESL students, who loved it.

If you can trick kids into loving reading, they'll be more likely to read on their own, and to excel even when they need to slog through the tedious crap we all have to encournter. I went to college and had my fair share of professors who made me purchase books of awful essays just because they happened to have written one. I did what I had to do, got through the coursework, and sold or tossed the unmemorable volumes.

But that was only because I grew up in a house full of novels and mystery books. I read whatever my parents left lying around, and it was almost invariably more interesting that whatever my teachers prescribed. Kids without this advantage need teachers who will give them high-interest reading, not arbitrary crap deemed to be their level simply because it contains a lot of words.

It's tragic that ignorant, unimaginative non-educators are now dictating what our children will do in school. Is this really making them college-ready? More likely it's making them Walmart-Associate ready, or why would Gates, Walton, and Broad be ponying up for this crap?

They don't use it on their kids.

Why in the hell are we tolerating their experiments with ours?